WSJ tech columnist tests whether latest tablets can replace a notebook for work

by David Needle

February 20 2014

Can a tablet replace your notebook for work? There are many specific use cases where they can, but in general tablets are viewed as accessories to, rather than full-time replacements for notebook or desktop PCs.

Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Joanna Stern set out to see if the latest crop of tablets was up to replacing her MacBook.

Right away she ruled out her beloved iPad noting:

“If I'm writing long emails or working on office documents, I want a larger screen, a roomy keyboard and the ability to easily juggle programs.”

In Tablets Get Down to Business (subscription required), she compared using three tablets with larger screens to Apple’s iPad Air (Samsung's Galaxy Note Pro, Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 and the Nokia Lumia 2520) and came away swayed these tablets can do real work. The Samsung tablet runs Android while the Surface Pro 2 and Lumia 2520 both run Windows 8.1.

Multitasking:

In her work Stern often toggles between email, a Web browser, a word processor, Skype and a Twitter app. For moving between programs or multitasking she notes the Galaxy Note Pro had some good tricks.

“I arranged up to four apps on the large high-resolution display (though two fit best), and switched between full-screen apps by using the Alt + Tab keyboard shortcut.”

But she said the Windows tablets actually offered the fastest way to multitask by locking apps side by side, or quickly toggling between them with keystrokes.

Keyboards and battery life

The Surface Pro and Galaxy Note Pro tied for best keyboard and Stern says each tablet’s stylus came in handy during meetings for converting handwriting into notes.

But when it came to battery life, the Surface Pro was the loser of the group, running out after 5.5 hours of use. Conversely, the thinner iPad Air and Galaxy Note Pro streamed video for over nine hours, and the Lumia wasn’t far behind at almost eight hours. 

Conclusion:

While there many plusses to the tablet experiment Stern concluded she still preferred her MacBook Air “or any 13-inch Windows laptop” for work.

The bigger tablets aren’t truly portable and the screens still aren’t as big as what you get with an notebook computer.

“The more useful for work these devices become, the further they get from being really good tablets, which means it might take awhile before that perfect all-in-one device arrives,” says Stern. 

(How tablets can replace laptops at work will be a key session at the Tablet Strategy conference in New York on May 6, 2014. Register here)

David Needle is Editor of TabTimes and based in Silicon Valley
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